Tokyo (1923) I Unification of Cityscape in the Ginza Area

Tokyo (1923) I Unification of Cityscape in the Ginza Area

The Ginza had been built on a grid layout on the reclaimed land, embracing the views of Mount Fuji and the castle. The Tokaido, the highways running through the central region, connected the west with the north of the country. Ginza was separated from the daimyo residences in the Marunouchi and Yurakucho area by a moat. After the sever destruction by the fire in 1872, a new urban plan was suggested for the sake of reconstruction works.

Fig3.1 The Ginza and Marunouchi area in 1859.

Source: Chizu Shiryo Hensankai, Historical maps of Edo-Tokyo,1657-1895), Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobo, 1988, 69.

Fig3.2 Extent of fire damage caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

The small lots were found ineffective in hosting the new institutions of an expanding metropolis, like government buildings. Similar as the European cities, their medieval centers were demolished to provide land for new government buildings, transportation facilities and modernized infrastructure. Having considered the frequency and extent of destruction, the Japanese government had taken the initiative to consolidate land and create large lots.

For the British engineer Thomas J. Waters, he proposed a new thoroughfare lined with the sidewalks and two-story buildings with arcades, in order to rebuild the city as a brick district after the fire. With reference to the European cities, the Japanese government had the intention to transform and unify the streetscape in the early 1870s. However, only a few new roads were created and had their orientation changed. As shown in the maps of Ginza, the plans were transformed back to an earlier urban layout during the reconstruction after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. This manifests that there was not much feasible large-scale expropriation.

Fig3.3 Ginza Brick Street in 1873.

Source: Terunobu Fujimori, “Ginza Brick Town,” in City Planning Institute of Japan, ed., Centenary of Modern City Planning and its Perspective, 32-33 (Tokyo: City Planning Institute of Japan, 1988), 33.

The urban planning intervention focused on reduction of blocks and lots, creation of new streets and widening of streets, by making use of the public land near the moats for compensation. However, after the rebuilding, there were still several extremely small lots, due to the lack of planning for distributing the land reduction equitably to all landowners in the region. When new lots were created, small passageways which were private properties were replaced with small public roads. When the street system was conserved, the landownership was changed and so did the long-term structure.

Fig3.4 The 1872 plan on the left for the Ginza area shows the proposed widening of the streets and the suggested straightening of the grids; the 1877 analytical plan on the right shows the actual changes in the Ginza area

Source: Terunobu Fujimori, “Ginza Brick Town,” in City Planning Institute of Japan, ed., Centenary of Modern City Planning and its Perspective, 32-33 (Tokyo: City Planning Institute of Japan, 1988), 33.

Fig3.5 The Ginza and Marunouchi area in 1876.

Source: Chizu Shiryo Hensankai, Historical maps of Edo-Tokyo, 1657-1895) (Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobo, 1988), 63.

However, the changes did not function well, as in 1923, the Ginza area was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake again. The old street to the centre of the Yamashita-cho was restored. The landownership may not have changed after 1923 and hence several years’ time were used to achieve individual landownership. The construction of a highway running across the former moat area provided two crossing in the previous location of the bridges. As for the triangular site defined by the two crossing streets, the expanded Taimei elementary school was housed. Such an insertion of public function into the urban fabric was completed through land readjustment.

Even after the Meiji Restoration, small lots and long landownership practices still existsed. There were only individual purchases but not land readjustment by private landowners, which created large lots for building department stores. Practicality and accessibility were put before aesthetic considerations for the local adjustments. The demand in local landowners eventually shaped the neighbourhood.

 

What is the significance of Ginza to the Japanese planning history?

For Ginza, as a prosperous region throughout history, the rate of recovery works was relatively fast. It is essential to know that the government had proposed Ginza as an example for fireproof residential construction after the massive fire in 1872. As inspired by the concept of “brick buildings” as mentioned above, a unified streetscape and separation of traffic were planned and a strict design code was adopted. It was considered as the last trial in transforming Tokyo with reference to the European cities, as it was destroyed once again in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. After the complete destruction, the typical chaotic style of Japanese streetscape prevailed again. Even though the reconstruction and transformation of Ginza may seem to be a failure, it rooted the basis for the development of commerce in the area and hence raised the values of land.

 

Bibliography

Hein, C. (2010) Shaping Tokyo: Land Development and Planning Practice in the Early Modern Japanese Metropolis, SAGE Publications.

Lawrence, J. Vale & Thomas J. (2005), The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster, Oxford University Press.

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